Keeping Heads Up in Harare

Society & Culture | By Masimba Biriwashe, Writer | 23 June 2013

A FEW years ago, a friend challenged me to keep my head up when walking down the streets of Harare. He even gave me a tip to read street and shop signs as a way to train myself to walk with my head held high. I remember nodding my head rather flippantly. In retrospect, I never quite took up the challenge. But, I somehow never forgot it.

In 2012, I somehow found myself driven to the challenge, and what a roller-coaster experience it’s been. Walking with head held high is not as easy as it seems: it take serious conscious effort. To make things easy for myself, I simply put what my friend told me to practice. Every time I caught myself walking with my head drooped I lifted it to read the street and shop signs round me.

Slowly, something short of a miracle started happening as I began looking straight into people’s faces. At first, I found it very intimidating to lock my eyes with other people. And then it dawned on me that most people in Harare actually walked regally with their heads raised up. At first, though, I was not very convinced by my hypothesis. So I decided to put it to test by counting the number of people that I came across walking with bowed heads and lowered eyes.

Given the multitude of problems that Hararians have been through over the past decade, I expected to find quite a number of people walking with their heads drooped like heavy loads and shoulders falling down like teardrops. In addition, older people in past were always quick to castigate you if you looked straight into their face. It was regarded as a sign of disrespect. In other words, when you talked to an older person the respectful thing to do was to keep your gaze cast downwards.

And so I went round and round the streets of Harare silently counting the number of people who walked looking downwards. To my utter surprise, my hypothesis was not confirmed: I swear I must have come across only one or two people walking looking downwards.

I daresay, most Hararains, have adopted the walk with your head up demeanour. It’s become a fashion statement. I don’t really know what to attribute this behaviour to; it could be a case of being hardened by the years of solitude and despair that our country has endured over the past decade.

As for me, I can safely say that I have discovered that walking with your head held high is not a sign of pride. It’s a process of self-affirmation, of allowing one’s light to shine. And every time that I lock up my eyes with another person on the streets, I now simply affirm the divinity which is apparent in them and continue with my step.
In Harare, walking with head held high is definitely the in thing. In spite of the daily challenges that we continue to face, Hararians are not fazed. It’s as if there is a mystical flow in the air, prodding everyone to discover the divinity and dignity which resides in all of us and using that energy with quite confidence to keep heads held high.
At about the same time that I seriously took up my friend’s challenge, I discovered a verse in the Bible that brought a serious jolt to my veins. It was like a message come at the right time, and it read: Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you.

If there’s a great lesson that I have picked up on Harare’s teeming streets, it’s simply when you allow your eyes to look straight ahead, and when you fix your gaze directly before you, there’s a whole world that opens up and with it an affirmation of self and others and a chance to take on life’s endless challenges. It also helps to maintain poise and confidence. Through actively loving one another we nurture the richness of everyone's fuller expression. With no more than a nod of attention we can elicit a smile or perhaps a commitment to attempt again a challenge that defeated us earlier.